I bet most of the stimulating and revealing talks you’ve ever had were in a coffee house, where you were buzzing off of your skinny latte while ingesting not-so-healthy calorie bomb. Coffee houses are ubiquitous and very public, yet often cozy and intimate, allowing for an interview or revealing conversation to stay private thanks to the constantly hissing espresso machine and howls of chairs scraping over laminate floors. Perhaps that is why we should not be surprised at the rise of a “newscafé” chain that gives its journalists a place to cover local news while serving beverages and snacks to anyone needing a midday fix.
PFF Media, a Czech mass media and education company, operates the Naše Adresa (“our address”) chain. The business model is a compelling one: it provides its reporters tracking local news a cost-effective workplace, while sales of coffee and desserts cover rent and other costs. The result? Currently, the firm operates four local newspapers, all working from the local cafés. Forty more are scheduled to open during 2010, giving PFF 89 outlets that will span the Czech Republic. While 60% of the PFF’s profit will come from online and print editions of its newspapers, almost 20% will come from sales at its coffee outlets, and about 10% from events and entertainment. The final 10% will come from its central office, or “Futuroom” in Prague, a state-of-the-art consulting and training facility. Finally, the company will not just be snaring bloggers in local communities: its plan is to hire young journalists out of college and train them for four months before setting them free to report on emerging news in their communities.
It is no secret that newspapers around the world are suffering, unable to compete with Internet-based news, ad services like Craigslist, and bloggers, who have filled the vacuum by newspapers’ decrease in covering local news. And while the web is full of stories and opinions of local political, economic, and cultural events, old fashioned gumshoe journalism can impart credibility and accuracy. At the same time, newspapers just cannot afford the overhead necessary for a traditional publication. Working from home has its merits, but having a professional place to write, interact with colleagues, meet with a coveted news source, and yes, inhaling double espressos in a sleek setting, has the potential to give a community what salons and even taverns offered earlier generations of writers and reporters.
But first, PFF and its Naše Adresa outlets need to survive the next couple years. Operation costs are about US$12,000 a month, and right now the stores clear about US$8000 a month, but Roman Gallo, PFF’s Director of Media Strategies, believes the venture will turn a profit by 2012. By allowing anyone to walk into a café and contribute ideas to PFF’s staff, Gallo expects these stores to catch on because they will serve as a focal point for community involvement. Gallo quipped, “We will bigger than McDonald’s in the Czech Republic.”
That may be a stretch. But an original idea serving a need not currently serving the marketplace can succeed if properly managed. It’s one thing to read the newspaper at a coffee house; reading news while having breakfast at the location where a story was reported would give a whole new meaning to the term locavore.